I was in California last week to speak at Biola University about spiritual friendship (I’ll post a link to the video when it becomes available), and I got to spend a lot of good time with a friend I’ve known since college days, named Chris. As we were talking one night, Chris pulled out a passage from a sermon by the twentieth-century German theologian Helmut Thielicke that struck me as unusually powerful:
I once knew a very old married couple who radiated a tremendous happiness. The wife especially, who was almost unable to move because of old age and illness and in whose kind old face the joys and sufferings of many years had etched a hundred runes, was filled with such gratitude for life that I was touched to the quick. Involuntarily I asked myself what could possibly be the source of this kindly old person’s radiance. Otherwise they were very common people and their room indicated only the most modest comfort. But suddenly I knew where it all came from, for I saw these two speaking to each other and their eyes hanging upon each other. All at once it became clear to me that this woman was dearly loved. And it was as if she were like a stone that has been lying in the sun for years and years, absorbing all its radiant warmth, and now was reflecting back cheerfulness and warmth and serenity.
Let me express it this way. It was not because she was this kind of a cheerful and pleasant person that she was loved by her husband all those years. It was probably the other way around. Because she was so loved, she became the person I now saw before me.
This thought continued to pursue me and the more it pursued me the more it lost all its merely edifying and sentimental features, until finally they were gone altogether. For if this is true, then I surely must come to the following conclusion. If my life partner or my friend or just people generally often seem to be so strange and I ask myself: “Have I made the right marriage, the right friendship; is this particular person really the one who is suited to me?”—then I cannot answer this question in the style of a neutral diagnosis which would list the reasons for and against. For what happens then is that the question turns back upon myself, and then it reads: “Have I perhaps bestowed too little love upon this other person, that he has become so cold and empty? Have I perhaps caused him to become what perhaps he really has become? The other person, whom God has joined to me, is never what he is apart from me. He is not only bone of my bone; he is also boredom of my boredom and lovelessness of my lovelessness.”
Several comments on my recent post identified an important question worthy of greater reflection. I wrote, “It [marriage] should only be pursued when there is a strong spiritual, emotional, and physical attraction between two people.” The question: How is a man who is sexually attracted to men to qualify his physical attraction to a woman? Is it tied to spiritual and emotional attraction?
I initially offered the tripartite physical/emotional/spiritual grid for attraction in an attempt to demonstrate that any romantic relationship operates on more than just the physical or sexual level. It seems to me that the nature of attractions themselves are actually much more complicated than this, to the point where trying to make clean distinctions between these three categories may prove problematic. I personally feel this difficulty when I try and describe how my attraction to Christy moved from being primarily emotional to substantially physical, as well as the place that spiritual attraction fit into that process.
Following my post earlier in the week where I share some of our story, I wanted to reflect on a few other aspects of marriage as it relates to same sex attraction.
There are a lot of bad reasons to get married, and there are perhaps even more bad reasons to get married when you experience ongoing attraction to the same sex. Bad reasons might include:
- To convince myself (or anyone else) that I am straight.
- Because it’s what I’m supposed to do.
- Because marriage will change my attractions.
Suppose that a prominent secular gay organization, hoping to better understand and respond to pro-family Christian groups, sent a reporter to interview Heidi Fleiss, the former Hollywood Madam, in order to get her perspective on why men and women want to marry and start families, and to gain insight on why some of them try to make marriage and family policy a major political issue.
I would think that most of us would recognize this as one of the least intelligent strategies available for understanding what motivates pro-family Christian groups—something more worthy of an article in The Onion or a Saturday Night Live skit than a serious article by activists who hope to affect social policy.
However, on Wednesday, Life Site News published an interview with Joseph Sciambra, a former gay porn actor, escort, sadomasochist, and Satanist. The interviewer, Peter Baklinski, asked Joseph:
Your experience with homosexuality is absolutely terrifying, especially when you relate the kind of sexual acts that were forced upon you and that you forced upon others. What you related of your experience seems quite alien from anything having to do with the political push for gay “marriage”. From your experience on the gay scene for ten years in the 90’s, what do you think is really behind the push for gay “marriage”?
With the quickly changing landscape of discussions surrounding homosexuality in the broader culture has come the advent of new ways of describing the varying situations that same-sex attracted Christians find themselves in. One of these situations is being married to the opposite sex.
These types of marriages have often been pigeon-holed into one of two narratives, depending on who is evaluating them. For many conservative Christians, these marriages have been used as a sort of sign-post declaring that one has “arrived” and has experienced re-orientation, or the change from a homosexual orientation to a heterosexual one. Thus, whole ministries have been geared around the goal of having participants get married to a woman.
I wanted to talk about the difference between a narrative of “orientation change” and one of “mixed orientation marriage,” and how I see that from a Catholic perspective.
I’ve struggled for a long time with the notion of “sexual orientation.” In some ways, the Courage party line, that there are no homosexuals, just heterosexuals with same-sex attraction, is true. Ontologically, theologically, it would seem to be a justifiable statement. The problem is, no one really talks ontologically in daily life. We say “I’m depressed,” not “I am a human being who is experiencing depression,” or “I’m a Liverpool fan” not “I am a person with Liverpool Football Attractions (LFA).”
The difficulty with this in terms of the “gay” debate, is that a lot of people do intend the term “gay” or “queer” ontologically. Today this is perhaps less true than it was in the 90′s, but the basic meme “I’m gay. That’s who I am” is still alive and well and living in San Francisco. This means that if someone like myself, or Josh Gonnerman, says “I’m gay/queer…and Catholic, and chaste,” it raises some eyebrows. Do I mean that I’m “queer” in the depths of my identity, that I am a queer child of God, or am I using language casually, I’m “queer” in the same way that I’m a board-game geek?
Yesterday’s post on Sexual Ethics and the Trinity was mostly very well received (for which I am grateful). But I did get some criticisms, which I’d like to try to respond to. (I suppose it’s inevitable, when you try to push the conversation in a very different direction, that some readers will not understand where you are going.)
Social and religious context
Why did I write this in the first place? What problem was I trying to address?
In the last 40 years, western culture has gone through a profound shift in its understanding of marriage, human sexuality, and procreation.
This shift has also affected Christians in various ways. In the Catholic Church, contraception, remarriage after divorce, and same-sex unions remain contrary to Church teaching, but this teaching does not receive anything like universal assent in the pews. In other Christian communions, there have been divisive debates about a variety of issues in sexual ethics, with varying levels of official acceptance of changing attitudes toward sexual ethics.
God reveals Himself primarily as Father. What does that mean for our understanding of marriage?
Even in Christian culture, marriage is often seen primarily as a romantic and erotic union between a man and a woman. Thus, it has become more and more common, when we want to speak theologically about marriage, to talk about the image of Christ as the bridegroom of the Church.
Moreover, the widespread availability of contraceptives has made children seem a somewhat secondary, and voluntary, addition to marriage. Christians are not as inclined to reflect deeply on the connection between marriage and children as earlier Christian generations did.
My friend Fr. Stewart Ruch III, the newly elected Anglican (ACNA) bishop of the Diocese of the Upper Midwest, was recently interviewed about a sermon he gave on celibacy. For many years, Fr. Stewart has been the rector of Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois, and in this interview he draws on several conversations he had with celibate members of his parish.
Here’s a taste:
I wanted to talk about a larger issue than just human marriage or singleness. I wanted to talk about the very goal of human personhood. God in Christ wants to marry humanity. He chose spiritual marriage, the great marriage of our souls with God, as a kind of beatific vision, the end goal of all of our personhood. Marriage with God is a dramatic biblical metaphor for God’s relationship with his people.
The concept of “singleness” can’t do justice to this. For one thing, no one is autonomous or truly “single.” When we realize this, we begin to see that every person is profoundly connected, and has the ultimate destiny of absolute communion with God.
Often, the problem in the church is that “singles” get left behind. We subtly communicate that marriage and raising a family is the “big deal” of Christianity. That’s incomplete. Celibacy, just like marriage, points us towards the real big deal—the marriage of God in Christ with humanity. A celibate Christian can be a sign of living faithfully into that marriage. Celibacy is a far more rounded, nuanced, positive word to say what our theology calls us into. I call those embracing this lifestyle “celibate” because they’re actually being called to live in full marriage with God as a picture of what we’re all going to be when there’s no giving and taking of marriage in heaven.
Read the whole thing.
A few days ago, The Atlantic ran a piece about the growing support for gay rights among Christians. But the article left me wanting more precision. Consider this claim:
In 2004, just 36 percent of Catholics, the Christian sect most supportive of gay marriage, favored it, along with 34 percent of mainline Protestants; today, it’s 57 percent of Catholics and 55 percent of mainline Protestants. Even among white evangelical Protestants, the most hostile group to gay marriage, support has more than doubled, from 11 percent in 2004 to 24 percent in 2013.
I can’t shed much light on the Catholic and mainline Protestant percentages there, but I can highlight how that figure for evangelical Protestants may be misleading.